Hillary Clinton's famous speech
on internet freedom a year ago has received plenty of scrutiny
lately, mainly because of the contradictions between that speech and the State Department's more recent reactions to the Wikileaks release of State Department cables. It's easy to be about freedom when that freedom's not directed at you. However, Evgeny Morozov is now arguing that the speech was a lot worse than just being hypocritical, it served to make life a lot more difficult for Silicon Valley companies around the world
. That's because, before this, many countries didn't think much of various social networking tools but as soon as the US government started championing them, the inevitable conclusion was that these companies were specific tools of the US government designed to infiltrate foreign countries:
By aligning themselves with Internet companies and organizations, Clinton's digital diplomats have convinced their enemies abroad that Internet freedom is another Trojan horse for American imperialism.
Today, foreign governments see the writing on the virtual wall. Democratic and authoritarian states alike are now seeking "information sovereignty" from American companies, especially those perceived as being in bed with the U.S. government. Internet search, social networking, and even email are increasingly seen as strategic industries that need to be protected from foreign control. Russia is toying with spending $100 million to build a domestic alternative to Google. Iranian authorities are considering a similar idea after banning Gmail last February, and last summer launched their own Facebook clone called Velayatmadaran, named after followers of the velayaat, or supreme leader. Even Turkey, a U.S. ally, has plans to provide a government-run email address to every Turkish citizen to lessen the population's dependence on U.S. providers.
It's an interesting argument, but I'm not sure I buy it. Europe has been trying to get out from under US tech companies since long before these moves. Remember Quaero
? This was the hugely funded move by a bunch of European countries to create a "competitor" to Google, so that European culture wouldn't be controlled by a US company. Similarly, China has a long history of trying to build its own clones of US tech companies and of keeping the US versions out. It's not clear that these efforts got any stronger after Clinton's speech. It may be true that her speech didn't help
matters, but I haven't seen any big shift in policy because of that speech.